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I attempted climbing and skiing the North Face of Everest in 2002 and failed. I went back and actually climbed it from the south side in 2004, which was kind of like my scouting mission to make sure it was ski-able. I finally went back to climb and ski it in 2006 with my good friends Rob and Kit. I trained seriously in order to make that happen. Definitely one of the heaviest training regiments that I’ve been on, which is funny because it was self inflicted. I didn’t have a trainer or coach. I was just really motivated. My fitness was one of the variables I had control over so I took it as far as I could. I spent a lot of time prepping, too. Figuring out my gear and modifying stuff. Again, leaving as little to chance as possible.
The scariest moment was probably dropping off out of Camp 4 at 26,000 ft, down the South Pillar Route on the Lhotse face: 5000 vertical feet and 50 degrees of icy conditions. It’s all no-fall zone. If you lose an edge, you’re gone.
Experience teaches you to be calm. It’s always better to be calm than to panic. Panic is never going to serve you well. You have to remain objective in your decision-making and not make emotional decisions. Staying calm allows you to make better decisions.
Confidence is healthy if it is born from experience. I think it’s helpful in the mountains in order to stay calm when things are going sideways. I think it’s a balance between confidence and humility when approaching the mountains.
You can never allow yourself to become overconfident. That can get you in trouble. Often I am the most nervous when things are going well.
"Experience teaches you to be calm. Staying calm allows you to make better decisions."
One thing that I have learned on big mountain expeditions is that there are always 1,001 reasons for you to turn around. You have to be able to make good assessments and make objective decisions, not emotional ones. It’s clearly helpful to have a lot of experience to build the trust in yourself to make good decisions. If I am undertaking any big project, whether it’s a big climb or a challenging film, I like to stay steady and push forward until there is a really good reason for me not to. There is a lot of analysis going on and I don’t turn around unless there is a valid reason for me to turn around. Often times, less experienced climbers might turn around without having actually identified the risks and figured out a way to mitigate them appropriately. Or worse, they continue on and get themselves in trouble because they haven’t the experience to make a good decision to turn around. The more experience you have, the more that you can deal with situations that fall in the gray zones.
Ultimately, you have to stay calm in order to make good decisions. The rest of your success in the mountains has to do with preparation. The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you are. You want the absolute minimum bandwidth wasted on concerns that are entirely preventable. Make sure your equipment, your fitness, your mindset is up to well prepared so you can focus on your objectives when you’re in the mountains. All these elements of preparation add up to accomplishing your goals on the mountain. It’s the same in life.
I think a lot about the variables that are in my control and the variables that aren’t. I identify the ones that are in my control and leave as little to chance there as possible. Once those are dialed, you can focus on managing the variables outside of your control. Have a plan but remain flexible. And that goes for the mountain or anywhere else.
Socks are obviously very important. It’s funny because socks have a very simple job. But like all equipment or somebody on a team, you rely on them to do their job and to do it well. Socks should keep your feet warm and dry. Because that’s the last thing you want to worry about when you’re in the mountains.
I want to be confident in my clothing and my equipment. Everything has to be dialed.